Beauty Along the Color Line: <i>Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics</i>

Russ Castronovo

in Beautiful Democracy

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print September 2007 | ISBN: 9780226096285
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226096308 | DOI:
Beauty Along the Color Line: Lynching, Form, and Aesthetics

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  • Literary Studies (19th Century)


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W. E. B. Du Bois's interest in aesthetics speaks volumes about how specific content—particularly African Americans—often fails to meet putatively universal criteria that underwrite justice. By attending to form in an era of lynching, Du Bois rearticulated the initial delimitations of “the beautiful” whose abstract parameters disallowed black lives from having merit both in the national sphere and in international settings of colonialism. Although Du Bois's “militant journalism,” according to David Levering Lewis, clearly follows in the tradition of Frederick Douglass's North Star, the intellectual inheritance linking African Americans to the tradition of Western aesthetics seemed tenuous if not antagonistic. Aesthetic philosophy stipulates that general precepts about beauty always met their limit in blackness, the Negro, or Africa. By starting with The Crisis, the black writers' engagement of art and propaganda, including Du Bois's own novelistic examples, this chapter brings an alternative aesthetics into focus.

Keywords: Du Bois; aesthetics; justice; beautiful; colonialism; militant journalism; Frederick Douglass; North Star; aesthetic philosophy; Crisis

Chapter.  12092 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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